April West was in need of a job and figured one as a mystery shopper wouldn’t be that difficult. She figured if nothing else, it could be a part-time gig to help her checkbook.
April West was in need of a job and figured one as a mystery shopper wouldn’t be that difficult. She figured if nothing else, it could be a part-time gig to help her checkbook.She responded to the ad and received a letter from a company called Global Consumer Services.It had detailed instructions of how to complete her first mystery shopping assignment as training, and check to cover her purchases. “I read the letter and what they wanted,” West said. “I was like ‘Wow, $3,000, I’m ready to go.”But something didn’t seem right. The check was from a lighting company, and didn’t match the letter head. She started asking questions. “What is a lighting company in California doing mailing me money to go to Wal-Mart, Kmart, Macy’s, JC Penney or Target,” West asked. Before she cashed the check she received, she visited with Susan Eason, a case manager at Salvation Army. It was a smart move. Eason started researching the check and the company behind it on the Internet. After hours of digging, she found out the more than $3,000 check was fraudulent.“It’s a real company, and the check is from a real bank,” Eason said. “We looked the company up, and it seems legitimate. This is an elaborate scheme.”Eason found a press release on the lighting company Web site that warned of the scam, though it took a little digging to get there. According to Amy Mitchell of First Bank, there are red flags everywhere for those who are targeted by such a scheme. First, the company on the check and the company on the letterhead with instructions don’t match. And then there’s the instructions — take the check to the bank and deposit enough to cover the purchase you intend to make and for your training “payment.” Take the rest in cash, and wire it via Western Union to yet another address to “evaluate” Western Union’s services. That’s the hook — where the victim loses the most money. When the check comes back as fraudulent, or reported stolen, the victim is responsible for all those funds. “Anytime they tell you to use MoneyGram or Western Union, those are instant transfers,” Mitchell said. “Once the transfer is made, the money is gone.”Leaving someone like West holding the bag. “I have a customer that was taken,” Mitchell said. “She is now paying back a loan for money she will never see any benefit from.”Mitchell said the bank will ask for its money back. She stressed that in this kind of scam, with a fraudulent check, there is no way to keep the money for yourself if you cash the check. “When you deposit or cash this check, you are responsible for it,” Mitchell said. West dodged a bullet by going to someone else before cashing the check. Others are not so lucky. Rather than call the number in the letter, she asked someone else about the letter and the check. Eason is the one who started making phone calls — starting with the numbers in the letter. The people she reached did not want to talk with her. They instead insisted that West go home and call them herself.It was a red flag for Eason, and Mitchell said West did the right thing by not calling the numbers on the letter. “Often people who get these letters call the number on the letter,” Mitchell said. “But they are calling a fraudulent company.”West knows she dodged a bullet by not cashing the check, and enlisting help in making a decision was the right call. She hopes others will make the same decision she did. “I don’t want anyone to get caught up with this,” West said. But the reality is people are getting bit by the scam. Mitchell has several letters and checks, all from different scammers, on her desk. For those who don’t check things out, it’s easy to get caught. “When you are three months behind on bills, you might not think this through,” West said. “Times are hard right now, and people are willing to take almost anything.”